LeBoeuf set to investigate Banco Austral’s accounts

LeBoeuf Lamb Green & MacRae has been drafted in by Mozambique’s government to investigate and audit the accounts of the formerly state-owned bank Banco Austral.

The Johannesburg office will work with the Mozambique attorney-general’s office to look into alleged criminal activities at the bank between 1997 and 2001.

At the time, Banco Austral, formerly the People’s Development Bank, was owned by a Malaysian-Mozambican consortium headed by the Malaysian Southern Bank Berhard.

However, the consortium returned its 60 per cent stake to Mozambique’s government in 2001 under suspicion of fraud, fuelled by the bank’s bankruptcy worries because of bad debts.

The bank has since been privatised for a second time, with current owner, South Africa’s banking corporation Absa, taking an 80 per cent stake in the bank in 2002.

The forensic audit relates solely to the first privatisation and will establish the extent of the bad loans and any other fraud committed under the consortium’s management. It is being funded by the Swedish and Norwegian governments.

This is the second investigation into the bank’s financial situation during the consortium’s ownership.

An initial investigation was held in 2001, when Bank of Mozambique head of banking supervision Antonio Siba-Siba Macuacua became chairman of an interim board of directors charged with ascertaining the bank’s true financial situation.

However, Siba-Siba Macuacua was assassinated in August 2001 after publishing the names of more than 1,200 of Banco Austral’s debtors.